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How Did I Get Here? Sandy Boyle HR Director Mills & Reeve

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Sandy Boyle explains why delivering bad news is the worst part of HR’s job and gives his reasons as to why he’d happily share his lunch table with Peter Ustinov.


1. How strategic is your current role and what does it involve?
As the HR Director and an executive board member of a large regional law firm with 650 people based in four locations, my role is largely strategic. However, to carry it out I need to have a very good understanding of what is happening operationally both within and outside the HR function. Inevitably some of my time is spent on operational matters. I see my role as one of ensuring that both now and in the future we have the right people, in the right place and with the right knowledge and skills to deliver our business plan.

2. How is the HR function perceived within your organisation?
I have a great HR team and overall I believe the perception of the HR function is very positive. I’m sure there are aspects of what we do which could be improved and as a great believer in Kaizen, we continuously look for ways of doing this. I also think an individual’s perception of the HR function will differ depending on the type of relationship and interaction they have with us.

3. How does your business use HR practices to get ahead?
As a professional services business our HR practices are critical to our success. Our success is dependent on our ability to attract, develop and retain the very best people.

4. Why is your company such a great place to work?
It provides a challenging and supportive place to work.

5. How does HR win hearts and minds in your business?
By asking people for their views, listening to them and acting on what they say. By being open, honest and fair with people.

6. Will HR survive outsourcing and changes to service delivery?
I think the role of HR is changing rapidly as technology and outsourcing provide ways of reducing or eliminating a lot of the high volume, low value transactions traditionally carried out by the HR function. This has the benefit of making the HR roles within organisations much more interesting as the focus will be on being a business partner.

7. What’s the new skill set of HR?
Business awareness, commerciality, managing change (successfully!), talent management (although I prefer to think in terms of people and individuals rather than talent!) and communication.

8. What’s the worst thing about working in HR and the best?
The best – the part we play in creating an organisation which is regarded by its own people as a great place to work, where people feel valued, supported and respected and where they have the opportunity to progress by developing their skills, knowledge and experience.

The worst part is informing someone that their role is redundant. I have been fortunate in my career to date as I haven’t had to do this too often.

9. What are the key issues preventing HR professionals from getting a seat on the board?
A lack of commercial awareness and a failure to really understand how the activities they undertake support and facilitate the achievement of the organisation’s vision, strategy and business objectives. Too often people in HR are so busy undertaking numerous (and important) operational activities they don’t take time to consider what really matters most and the wider business context in which they are operating.

10. If you have a mantra/motto what is it?
People ‘own’ what they help to create.
What you measure is what you get.
There is no such thing as I can’t do….. or I will try to…., anyone can do anything they want to do.

11. What are you currently reading?
The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

12. What would be your desert island disc?
Puccini’s opera La Boheme

13. If you could have lunch with three famous people, dead or alive who would they be and why?
Jack Nicklaus to gain an insight into the life of a truly great golfer and sportsman, Andie MacDowell for her beauty, intelligence and glamour (she starred in two of my favourite films), and Peter Ustinov for his wit and story telling.

14. If you’d like to be remembered for one thing what is it?
As someone who always made a positive difference in everything he did.

Mills & Reeve were awarded 42nd place in the coveted Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to Work for 2005 list.

Previous career profiles can be seen on the How Did I Get Here? page.

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Annie Hayes

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